Will it be deja vu all over again with Jim Norman, the sullied former politician hoping for redemption through re-election?
Norman's back on the stump and working the neighborhoods and even has results from a lie detector test he says prove he's not a bad guy. The former star of the Republican Party hopes voters forgive, forget and return him to his rightful place on the Hillsborough County Commission — despite all that messy ethics stuff I'm betting he'd rather not talk about.
At last week's Tampa Tiger Bay Club — where it is supposed to be tradition to pepper candidates with hardball questions rather than lobbing the softballs of gentler forums — Norman, 62, was a no-show, despite having said he'd be there. The other candidates — Democrats John Dicks, Pat Kemp, Tom Scott and Brian Willis, and Republican Tim Schock, talked transportation. But no question, Norman's past headlines would have been both red meat and fair game, were he in fact there.
The candidate from the Carrollwood suburbs had an explanation, sort of. A buddy who showed up at Tiger Bay for him — but was not allowed to speak for him, so what was the point? — said Norman was seeing his ailing father in Jacksonville. Fair enough. Later, Norman would neither confirm nor deny this, saying it was "personal business."
This week he told me he has been to plenty of forums, the hard questions don't bother him, and indeed he was dealing with his father.
This put me in mind of some of Norman's other epically vague explanations — like his Big Vegas Adventure, and later, the Mysterious Arkansas Vacation Home.
That's when he told commissioners he would be away on "family matters." Times reporters found him gambling in Las Vegas in the company of a lobbyist who frequently appeared before the County Commission, and staying in a discounted room at the fancy Bellagio Hotel arranged by a businessman who had been at the center of a federal investigation into allegations of corruption.
After some confusing explanations, Norman ultimately said he added days to a planned trip to deal with a death in the family, and that he paid for himself.
More recently came the scandalous house that was to be his political undoing.
For months, Norman refused to say how his wife procured a lovely lakeside vacation home in an Arkansas resort community — and you had to wonder why, if everything was on the up and up. At last it was revealed the home was bankrolled to the tune of $435,000 by a wealthy local antitax activist whose business benefitted from the commission's pro-growth votes.
A judge called Norman's explanation — it was his wife's investment about which he knew nary a whit — absurd. This time, the bad smell lingered, even for those in his own party. Norman ended his bid for re-election to the state Senate and came home.
Now he's back and he wants your vote. You get to decide: Will it be Norman 2.0 or more of the Norman we already know? If I were in Vegas, I know how I'd bet.
Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]